Three white students at California's San Jose State University skated by with only misdemeanor battery charges after putting a bike lock around a black student's neck, attempting to lock him in a closet and referring to him as "three-fifths" of a person, among other harassments that a jury ultimately concluded were not hate crimes.
On Monday, Joseph "Brett" Bomgardner, 21, was convicted of misdemeanor battery along with his accomplices, Logan Beaschler and Colin Warren, both 20, Mercury News reported. A jury of six men and six women were deadlocked on hate crime charges.
The crimes took place in 2013 when the three assailants forced Donald Williams Jr., a 17-year-old freshman at the time, to wear a U-shaped bike lock around his neck. In another incident, prosecutors said, the three men tried locking Williams in a closet, according to NBC Bay Area.
The bullying only came to light after Williams' parents visited him and noticed a Confederate flag hanging up in his shared dorm suite, along with racist phrases including "three-fifths" written on a white board there, according to the Associated Press.
The flag belonged to Beaschler, who testified in court that it was displayed as a symbol of states' rights, according to Mercury News. A swastika and other Nazi symbols written on a dry erase board were simply political satire, he argued.
Attorneys for the defendants said the abuse was nothing more than a "prank war" that was "immature" and went too far. But former Judge LaDoris Cordell, head of San Jose University's task force on racial discrimination, disagreed.
"I am saddened that 12 jurors could not agree that calling a black male 'Three-fifths' or 'Fraction,' or forcing a lock around his neck, or creating an environment promoting racism with Confederate memorabilia, or hearing how this young man was humiliated, amounted to a hate crime," Cordell, who is black, told the publication. "This verdict demonstrates that we are a long way from living in a post-racist America."
Of the 12-person jury, not a single member was black.